Top 10 Paradoxes that Can Help Our Lives Flourish

by Mark Votava


The idea of paradox is a mystery that is hard to pin down.  Paradox does not make sense to our rational minds a lot of times.  It is two things being true at the same time with balance, grace and gentleness.  Paradox is mystery and brings us out of our either/or dualistic thinking.

Jesus was the master of paradox.  It seems that life is to be lived in paradox if we are to flourish in a world that wants to disregard it.  Embracing paradox could be our healing.  Living by its questions and tensions is essential for us to follow in the ways of the spirit.

My own journey has been about working through paradox after paradox to find what is authentic in life.  I am loving the mystery of paradox that I am finding in my own embodiment of love in the world.  God cannot be boxed up no matter how hard I try.  Paradox keeps me from putting God into a box of my own making.

Here are 2 quotes and 10 paradoxes that I think are essentail for us to embrace if we are to see our lives flourish in this world together:

Kathy Escobar says in her wonderful book Faith Shift, “…our desire for freedom, diversity, and mystery in our relationship with God will guide us into uncharted territories.  We will try things we’ve never tried before…  We will love in ways we never did before.  We will become freer.”

Parker J. Palmer writes in his book The Promise of Paradox, “Our first need is not to release the tension, but to live the contradictions, fully and painfully aware of the poles between which our lives are stretched.  As we do so, we will be plunged into paradox, at the center of which we will find transcendence and new life.  Our lives will be changed.  Both our beliefs and our actions will become more responsive to God’s spirit.  But this will happen only as we allow ourselves to be engulfed by contradictions which God alone can resolve.”

1. The paradox between contemplation and action.  This paradox of contemplation and action balances our lives.  We need both of these aspects of our lives to live in our limitations and responsibilities.  The reflective inwardness of contemplation is a great compliment to the outward movement of engagement in the world.

2. The paradox between the body of Christ global and local.  To be both rooted locally and linked globally to others through networking is so important to our flourishing.  We cannot be just local or we will become too insular.  We cannot be just networked globally or will we never be known in our local community.

3. The paradox between listening and speaking.  We need to listen just as much as we speak.  Speaking comes much easier and we need to hold it lightly.  Speaking needs to be rooted in a deep listening before we say anything.

4. The paradox between compassionate love and boundaries.  Compassionate love is what brings our lives meaning.  This is how we live in the spirit.  Boundaries are contextual to that love and help us with discernment toward what the shape of this love will look like.  They will teach us when we will need to act, rest, or say no at times so we can care for ourselves.

5. The paradox between solitude and community.  Community needs solitude and solitude needs community.  This is not either/or but both/and.  If we cannot be alone in solitude we will destroy community with others.  If we cannot be with others in community we will live in isolation.

6. The paradox between work and rest.  Work needs rest.  Rest needs work.  The balanced rhythm of both work and rest is very healthy in caring for ourselves and finding a peaceful way of life in the world.

7. The paradox between the dark times and light times.  Life will be difficult at times.  This is necessary in the process of living through pain, confusion, loss and loneliness.  It causes us to experience life differently.  Our lives are also full of pleasure, laughter and fun where life is light and less weighed down by burdens.

8. The paradox between the first half of life and the second half of life.  We experience life when we are younger as more active where we want to achieve our goals and find who we are through that.  In the later part of life we need to slow down and become more reflective in all we do.  As we grow in years, we become more interior and our identity is shaped from within.  Being, resting and finding the wonder and sacredness of life becomes our longing.

9. The paradox between the old and the new.  We hold onto ancient disciplines and the good things that older generations have taught us, but we do not become bound by them.  We look at our context in this time and move forward into what is alive in us now.  The balance of holding the old and the new puts us into a place of experimentation and living into our questions.

10. The paradox between the mind and the body.  We value the mind and the body equally.  Moving into an embodied way of life where love, compassion, empathy and grace fill our days is good for our world.  Learning new things through thinking, reading and discerning is important too for our flourishing.

What paradox has most shaped you in life?